Nonviolent Communication in New Work Offices

April 27, 2022

“Are you even working at all, or are you just here to take coffee breaks and sleep?” My coworker Laura greets me, obviously annoyed, as I return from my Napresso full of energy. If she only knew how I just outwitted an afternoon slump, I think to myself. Anyway, didn’t I recently have to pull an all-nighter to get the pitch deck finished, because Laura once again sent me the slides way too late? I roll my eyes and mumble under my breath “at least I meet my deadlines“, as I take my seat in the meeting room. Well, this situation didn’t actually happen, of course. Yet it keenly depicts how some things can collide at work: being pressed for time, work-related and perhaps also personal stress, and all sorts of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and individual needs. Try as you might, conflicts are impossible to avoid. That, in itself, isn’t bad, since theoretically conflicts should have the fine goal of coming to a mutually satisfying resolution. But unfortunately, we often carry out our conflicts (sometimes unknowingly) with violence embedded in the language we use. In conflict communication, not only what we say is important, but rather how we say it.  

Marshall B. Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication model

We don’t communicate properly in conflicts! That’s the fundamental hypothesis of Marshall B. Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication model. Rosenberg was an American psychologist who developed this communication and conflict resolution process in the 1960s. Rosenberg researched the influence language has on violence. He came to the conclusion that interpersonal conflicts were strongly impacted by the language we use in confrontations – that we resort to a violent language. What Rosenberg meant is that we become (without realizing it) judgemental and condemning in our choice of words. His contrasting approach of nonviolent communication is essentially based on empathy and appreciation. Firstly, we have to understand our own feelings and behaviors better. It should then be possible to recognize and to articulate our basic needs when we are communicating within a conflict situation. This opposes other strategies commonly implemented in conflicts, such as avoidance (don’t talk about it) or labeling culprits and victims. Secondly, an important aspect of this model is to discuss empathetically with the other party. Therefore, it is equally about understanding your own behavior patterns as well as showing understanding for your counterpart. This should introduce more clarity into the conflict.  

The four steps of nonviolent communication

Nonviolent communication is based on the premise that the language we use is the key to handling confrontations empathetically. Which is why it’s especially important to refrain from using divisive language and to always communicate on equal terms. There’s no room for hierarchies here. We should view the other party as a complete being with feelings and needs – and not only as a colleague, boss or whatever role we encounter them in. Instead of relying on threats or exercising power in other ways, mutual solutions should be reached, where the needs of all parties are taken into consideration. Rosenberg developed the following 4 steps for achieving this:

  • Observations: This is about your straightforward observations or description of the situation. Remain objective and refrain from interpretations and judgements. What just happened?
  • Feelings: Here the main focus is to describe the emotions which the conflict has evoked. How is the situation making us feel?  
  • Needs: Once we’ve identified our feelings, we can link them to the need from which they arose. What underlying need has brought about these feelings?
  • Request: At this step, the time has come to make a specific request. This can take the form of offering or asking for suggestions and concrete actions. What positive outcome is desired for the future? 

New Work and Nonviolent Communication 

Diversity, flexibility and agility - that’s what New Work companies are known for. This means a potpourri of people on the go in a fast-paced environment. It’s a place of encounters: where morning birds meet night owls, remote work fans meet office enthusiasts, digitalization evangelists meet pen-and-paper traditionalists. Human collaboration is an essential part of work, and for this reason New Work companies are increasingly placing value on soft skills when acquiring new staff. Such skills help to foster successful communication and a relaxed, friendly work atmosphere. Particular attention is also simultaneously being given to ensuring that the office is a safe space. The nonviolent communication model and its four steps offer us effective guidance on how we can handle conflicts better – both in the office and outside of it. So if the case with Laura at the beginning of our article wasn’t fictitious, our nonviolent communication talk might have gone like this: “I see that you’re just returning from a coffee break. That makes me feel unappreciated and stressed out, because I have so much to do. I need your expertise on this project. I wish we could talk about sorting out our breaks better.”